2004 in review: Books

As good as 2004 was for me and films, so was it a bad year for me and books. Excluding textbooks and reference works, I clocked a mere 21 over the course of the year, and almost none of them have been of any significance. To be fair, I have gone through a larger than average number of computing/design/usability textbooks this year, but I haven’t chalked most of these up for a quick review because I don’t tend to read them linearly cover-to-cover, or even completely.

However, three of these textbooks stand out as particularly good examples:

Paper Prototyping - Carolyn SnyderBuilding Accessible Websites - Joe ClarkVisual Explanations - Edward R. Tufte

  • Paper Prototyping by Carolyn Snyder is an excellent book on the subject for beginners and experienced designers alike. Solid advice, intersperesed with amusing anecdotes makes this an interesting as well as a highly informative read.
  • Building Accessible Websites by Joe Clark is simply the best reference available on making the web accessible to people with disabilities. If you’re serious about HTML, you need to read this book. Don’t let the cover put you off. (And if you’re wondering why the cover might be off-putting, cherish your ignorance.)
  • Finally, Visual Explanations by Edward R. Tufte is just fabulous. Even if the content were less interesting, the visual presentation of the book, and the attention and craft lavished on its production would make it worth having.

Of the other books I’ve read, only two stick in my mind as being genuinely noteworthy:

The Small Boat Of Great Sorrows - Dan FespermanDown Under - Bill Bryson

  • The Small Boat Of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman combines a detective story, a spy thriller, and an emotional novel about the ravages of war into a single book. Powerful, sensitive, and thrilling, it’s the only novel I read in 2004 that I can recommend without any hesitation.
  • Down Under by Bill Bryson is a wonderfully funny piece of travel writing that will make you want to take your next summer holiday in Oz. Intelligent, witty, and refreshing, it’s a book that is guaranteed to leave you with a smile on your face.

(Okay, so the The Small Boat Of Great Sorrows is the only one of these that was actually published in 2004, but if I was going to restrict my reading choices to books that came out last year, the list would have been damn small. For a variety of practical reasons, I haven’t had much time this last year to devote to serious reading. Note to self for 2005: must do better.)